Looking back: What we learned in 2005

first_imgIt’s time to reflect. I’ve been thinking about what my wife, Amy, and I have learned about our financial life in the past 12 months. So much has happened from reacquainting ourselves with our hometown after 15 years away, to dealing with Hurricane Katrina that any lessons threaten to get lost in a fog. So, I sat down with the stack of Love & Money columns from 2005 and realized that we’ve learned a lot about ourselves financially in the past year. And hopefully, enough of those lessons will stick with us that we don’t repeat our mistakes in the future. Lesson 1: Be careful what you wish for. You might get it. Amy and I each learned this lesson in 2005, though in different ways. For years I’ve wanted to invest in real estate, fixing up older homes and then selling them. I did just that with a house bought at auction earlier this year, earning a very respectable pretax return of 45% in eight months. Yet I went into this venture with my best friend, a guy I’ve known since 1972. He wasn’t into the plan nearly as much as I expected he would be, and rarely showed up to help. That strained not just our friendship, but my relationship with Amy, who early on saw that the project was troubled and would take far more of my time, and far longer, than necessary. Although I enjoyed the work, and would like to do it again, I’ll do it with my eyes open. I now know that any such project could leave me stretched too thin in the rest of my life. And I know that I can’t dismiss Amy’s concerns about the impact on the family just because I am focused on the potential financial return. Amy learned a similar lesson this year, in moving the family to Louisiana from New Jersey for her dream job a job from which she ultimately resigned. Though she found a far better job, she also found that her longtime singular focus on returning to our home state prevented her from seeing the effects on her and her family. In taking on an executive role, Amy is conflicted in the way so many parents and particularly women are these days: balancing the demands of a career she loves with the even greater demands of being a parent, which she also loves. Mix in the demands of a husband and suddenly her daily life is demonstrably different than what she faced as a part-time worker back in New Jersey. Plus, she now wonders whether we gave enough thought to the move’s impact on our son’s education, since we both believe he was in a better situation in a smaller, more-demanding school back East. We both got what we want, and we’re both generally happy. But if we knew then what we know now, we wonder what we would have done. Lesson 2: Be careful what you spurn. You might want it. This is the corollary to Lesson 1. I learned it specifically because of our relocation to Louisiana. For as long as Amy had wanted to return home, I didn’t. I was having too much fun living in places like Southern California, the Pacific Northwest and the New York area. Returning to the deep South, to my roots, didn’t appeal to me. Worse, I feared it would limit if not destroy my career. I was wrong. In going home again, I found that I cherish what I thought wasn’t important: proximity to family, LSU athletics, the south Louisiana culture, even the smell of the sweet olive blossoms in the spring and fall. These items especially the little stuff that fills our daily lives bring me a sense of contentment missing in my life for years. As for my job well, it certainly has limited my opportunities for advancement at the paper, and I do feel more exposed to any possible layoffs. At the same time, however, I’ve gained a certain confidence stemming from my independence as a stay-at-home worker. I have more time with my family than I’ve ever had, and I have the freedom to manage my personal life during the day. The trade-off is that I have to make up for those lost day hours by working a lot more at night and on the weekends. But it’s worth it. In short, I’ve learned that clinging too tightly to what you force yourself to believe prevents you from seeing that more enriching possibilities exist. Lesson 3: Count your eggs and smell the roses. I apologize for the double cliche. But I wanted to make two separate, but related, financial points. For as long as Amy and I have worked, we’ve disagreed on whether we’re saving enough. I always said no; Amy always said yes. So, early in the year I built a spreadsheet to calculate where we are financially in terms of our nest egg’s ability to cover our future expenses. My goal was to show Amy that we need to save even more. Instead, I discovered that Amy was right. We have been saving enough. Though my goal is still to be substantially overprepared so that we can spend excess cash on living a travel-heavy retirement, and not have to worry about money, I realize we have the opportunity to live a more memorable life today. To that end, we’ve begun to shift some future spending into the present so that we can take trips as a family or pay for items that make today a bit more enjoyable. Too often we spend our days saving without taking the time to measure where we are. But it does make sense to stop and smell the roses once you’ve counted your eggs. I want to be prepared for retirement, and we will be. I just don’t want to arrive there realizing I never lived along the way . Lesson 4: You can never be too prepared. As a reporter in New Orleans covering Hurricane Katrina, I saw directly the effects that catastrophes have on families. I also saw my own family’s lack of preparedness. If Katrina had ravaged my city instead, we wouldn’t have been ready for it. So, Amy and I created a family emergency plan to ensure that in a disaster we know how to find each other or communicate via friends and relatives. We set up a plan so that we both know who has our kids and how we’ll feed and shelter the family. We’ve also stockpiled some emergency cash in a secure location, knowing that when the power is out for days, access to cash is imperative. We hope we’ll never need this plan. But being prepared helps you quickly regain a sense of control when bad events arise. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img